Web Exclusive: Who Was Delaware’s John Dickinson and Why You Should Care
William Murchison authors the new biography “The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.”
(page 5 of 5)
At Rest in Wilmington
John Dickinson would never again sit in a great council of the republic. Citing his infirmities, he swept away invitations in 1788 to represent Delaware in the new U.S. Senate. He was only fifty-five, but a life of public service had crested. He did sit, formally, as a member of the convention that wrote Delaware’s 1792 constitution, occupying for that year only an at-large seat in the state senate from New Castle County.
Dickinson would live—improbably enough, given a lifetime of physical miseries—until February 14, 1808. He is laid to rest in the Friends Meeting House Burial Ground at Fourth and West streets in Wilmington, the city he called home for more than two decades.
History’s oddities, we all understand, include the assignment of definitive instances and characteristics to its greater participants—Franklin’s rakishness, Jefferson’s polymathy, Washington’s steadfastness. To this catalog, convention has appended Dickinson’s deliberate absence from the Pennsylvania State House on July 2, 1776. A day, by this reckoning, can define a life. Yet the life of John Dickinson has a breadth and depth unsubmissive to such corner cutting. No patriot of Dickinson’s day was more intensely patriotic, no lover of liberty more ardent. “Liberty,” he wrote, “is the sun of society. Rights are the beams.” No expositor of the ideas of liberty wrote with greater learning and eloquence—or enjoyed for a long time more commensurate respect, even veneration.
His persistence in seeking essential guarantees for the pursuit of liberty is the legacy to which history will one day pay overdue tribute.